Jamaican In New York: Rhea Prendergast Brings Yaad Vibes To The Big Apple

September 29, 2023

Words by DJ Gravy

Photos by Shoshots, Justin Padilla, Versus & Daniel Emuna

Certain people just connect to a frequency, a vibe, something you can’t see, but you can feel, once they connect to it, then they start to make waves. Rhea Prendergrast is a young woman from Jamaica, living in New York City, working at a high level in production by day, while simultaneously curating nightlife experiences through her brand, No Long Talking, and also collaborating and hosting events like Bashment and the LargeUp-powered party, Rice and Peas. LargeUp has always celebrated talented and exciting people making moves in the Caribbean and diaspora, doing our best to highlight them and their visions, so clearly, we had to catch up with Rhea aka Rheezus, and get the 411 on what fuels her and where her wave is headed…

LU: What’d you do today?

RP: I’m actually a bit under the weather – clearly starting off flu season strong – so I was home in bed from work. In between resting, I finally got around to updating my Instagram with updates on recent career achievements including landing an article in The Jamaica Observer about my life and interests in New York City. After that, my bestest friend that I made in college dropped a care package of medicine & coconut water to my apartment for me and we caught up over dinner. We had fallen out of touch during the pandemic, and have just started to really reconnect with each other.

LU: What are your favorite parts of living in New York?

RP: The people! The love for different cultures and scenes. The fact that it’s a walkable city. Being able to move on my own accord, being able to jump on the subway and go wherever. Everyone’s fearlessness and big dreams. The fact that there’s always food options at any time of night or day.

LU: What Jamaican food do you miss that you can’t find in the Big Apple?

RP: Jamaican KFC. Case closed.

LU: When you were young, what did you envision for your future?

RP: At first I wanted to be a vet, that was the answer I would put down on the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” cards in prep school. Then I potentially envisioned myself as a professional dancer, touring the world with different companies. Even so, I don’t ever really remember having a constant, solid ‘dream career’ when I was younger. I knew I was good at different things and what they were, but I wasn’t ever really working towards one singular goal, as has been the experience of some of my peers. I knew I would eventually be contributing to some creative field. I loved music, dance, theatre, production, dressing up and going out. To be real, I don’t really think I ‘envisioned’ my future much when I was younger. For me it was just one step to the next, doing well in school and getting involved in things that seemed interesting to me. It is just now that what I ‘envision’ for my future has become clearer and my different mini-visions of what I want to leave in the world have started to interconnect.

 

LU: How’d you come up with the concept for your party, No Long Talk?

RP: No Long Talk (NLT) came out of a longing to celebrate and feel proud of where I’m from, whilst building out my life in New York City. Before NLT, I spent a lot of time going to events and having different ‘Jamaican’ experiences in Manhattan, and I just never felt a sense of comfort from many of them, as I remembered feeling at home when I would go out with my friends. So I thought about it… My friends were here in New York so that wasn’t the problem, I absolutely loved living here and everything about New York so that wasn’t the problem… So what was it? In my eyes, the entertainment space should be a place of comfort, excitement, freedom and appreciation and I just wasn’t feeling any of those things very often.

So, I boiled the ‘problem’ down to the real-time translation of ‘cultural’ information from home to here, and the commitment to actively displaying that information. The disconnect was that I’d be staying up to date with fresh music and dance culture back home in Jamaica and be so excited about it, but then go out in Manhattan and feel like I was stuck in this time-capsule, since I’d only be hearing the hits that had made it onto Hot 97, and one or two newer records. Time was passing at home and history was continuing to be written, but I felt like as a Jamaican young person living away from home, that I was being left out of it… and that made me feel uncomfy. Of course, the traditions on which our entertainment culture is built, are essential, and must have their space to continue live on, inspire new variations and be celebrated, but I think because I’m from a younger generation, I felt like there was just not enough of an effort being made to tell a ‘fuller’ story of dancehall and reggae, that included me/us and our experience with the genre.

While studying at NYU, I was fortunate to go home for most summer and Christmas breaks. Leading up to leaving New York, I would always look forward to going to what I considered to be a ‘real’ party i.e. DJ juggling music, watching various dance crews get active, observing the synergy between the DJ and MC, hearing records being pulled up 5,6 times, listening to the MC tell a crazy story on the mic and you don’t really understand where they’re going with it until the last second right before the song plays and once it plays you’re like OHHHHHHHH, and all of the other elements that make dancehall culture so great and impactful worldwide. But since I’m not home as often and New York has become my base, I think about people who also aren’t home as often, or perhaps any at all, but still identify with and crave the comfort and authenticity that you would get from being in a dance. I wanted to be able to create those feelings of nostalgia and solace for both myself and for others with No Long Talk. I wanted people of varying ages to have an outlet in which they could feel seen, good and proud to be Jamaican and/or celebrate Jamaican culture, even while living away from home.

These feelings are essentially what fueled the concept of No Long Talk and why I started doing bi-weekly Wednesday late nights at Miss Lily’s 7A… Nights that I created specifically with a mission to celebrate and preserve authentic Jamaican culture in Manhattan. In terms of the No Long Talk name, I thought about it in two ways. I wanted something short and that people from all over the world could understand relatively easily. On one hand, No Long Talk to me means ‘minimal explanation, maximum enjoyment’. My hope is that when people see the brand, they know that whatever it is connected to, will be a solid product and experience, niceness guaranteed. I wanted a name that unquestionably represented the core of why the movement was created i.e. to preserve and push authentic Jamaican, and by extension Caribbean, culture worldwide.

With that said, since ‘No Long Talk’ is such a popular phrase within the region, it immediately translates a level of familiarity to a Caribbean audience and it helps to explain the concept without having to explain it too much. If you’re a Caribbean person or are a person who appreciates Caribbean culture and you see a party called No Long Talk, the hope is that you readily recognize that this experience was created with someone like you in mind. Apart from the huge Caribbean community that resides here, New York is a melting pot of cultures similar to Jamaica and so I know people originally from many different parts of the world, who are extremely interested in and love dancehall culture. So, No Long Talk aims to give everyone an opportunity to experience this, and the dream is that through these experiences, one might build a unique relationship with dancehall, that they are proud of and happy about.

LU: When it comes to curating, what drives you?

RP: Honestly, when it comes to curating, I am driven and inspired by shared experience, representation and pride. Those are three pretty big themes and there are probably some more things but I think they pretty much cover it. For instance, apart from what I have created with No Long Talk, I have done work on a number of other projects within the wider art world, and one or more of these three things always show up someway.

In my senior year of college, I produced a documentary which “tells the story of Black liberation around the world and a young director’s journey towards self-discovery, made possible through her mother’s touching chronicles, beginning with Grenada’s 1979 Revolution”. The documentary is called My Mother Mary and it was directed by my close friend Kayko Donald. Kayko and I were in the same Global Liberal Studies program at NYU, and always wanted to work together on something, but could never put our finger on what it would be. When she decided to make this documentary as her creative thesis, and told me the story that she wanted to share with the world and why, I was immediately interested. Interested for a number of reasons, but the main one being because it was a story of shared experience… something I knew that people of varying ages and backgrounds in diaspora communities all around the world would be able to relate to. Even though I’m not of Grenadian descent and don’t have a mother that experienced a bloody revolution, escaped to the U.S. at a young age and whose child has spent her life trying to piece together her heritage in the context of the place that she grew up in, I understand the importance of this story, and you may too. I understand how it might make someone like Kayko, a first-generation Caribbean person born and raised in New York City, feel represented, and you may too. So I did it, I worked on the project and I am so proud of it. Driven by shared experience and representation.

In the same way, I’ve worked with major corporate brands, amongst others, to tap into various shared community experiences. In some cases I’m the talent and I’m featured either in a campaign and/or article sharing my story as a part of a larger shared experience story, I am highlighted as a part of a group tasked to curate an experience that represents some kind of art culture (e.g. Red Bull Culture Clash 2022 with Half Moon), or I am included in a real-time event as a ‘host’, which really means that I will attend an event as well as bring along a group of people with me that I think would enhance the specific event experience and appreciate it. Something similar to tastemaking.

But! There’s more. More times than not, I am behind the scenes facilitating the telling of these stories i.e. planning various scale music and live entertainment experiences, assisting artists/DJs navigate the entertainment space, designing activations to celebrate cultural and/or sporting accomplishments, and helping entertainment/lifestyle brands ensure that the ‘right’ people are involved in the ‘right’ projects. It all sums to dotting a bunch of “i”s and crossing a bunch of “t”s to make sure that whichever target audience feels represented and that the project is successful. And in my opinion, one of the key measures of success for an event is how proud guests are to be there and participate in the experience. All in all, I’ll do this on behalf of brands, as well as through my personal brand. That was a mouthful.

LU: You work a demanding job in production, what’s your secret to balancing opposing schedules in a nonstop city like NYC?

RP: Yes! On top of all those things I also work a day job, some of the work becomes intertwined. I am an Event Producer & Community Experience Manager at Studio 368 (three-six-eight-): a production studio, community hub, content agency and creative experiential space at the cross-section of Soho/Tribeca/Chinatown founded by famed YouTube creator, Casey Neistat. I bring the visions of artists of various kinds to life through planning and executing both live and recorded experiences (e.g. musicians, filmmakers, visual artists, spoken word poets, photographers, comedians etc.), I’ll produce commercial shoots for companies like Google, Adobe, Cash App, etc. and I manage everything from relationships with community and lifestyle brands to production schedules to the studio soundtrack. I’ve worked to create artist album premiere experiences for record labels like Warner Music and RCA, produced events for Fast Company Innovation Festival, curated experiences for artists like Shantell Martin, Timothy Goodman and NewYorkNico, produced commercials with famed directors like Shomi Patwary and esteemed talent like GhettoGastro, and made a bunch of other awesome things.

But to answer the question….To be honest, I’m still figuring it all out. I’m just really getting started and have super big dreams, so a lot of it has been just figuring it out. What I’m currently on a mission to do (which I guess you could say is my secret to balancing opposing schedules) is to learn as many skills as I can, and try to make everything I’m involved in work in unison, like parts of a well oiled machine. For example, if there are skills I learnt from one project, I try to see how I can apply them to another project to make my workload less and make the end product better. Or, say there’s a connect that I met working on one project that I think would be a perfect person to cast in another one, I try to make use of that connection. I try not to think of things as opposing schedules, but flip it to think how I can find a way for them to complement each other. Sometimes it’s really just not possible. But, sometimes it is. Overall, I just try my best to work smarter and not harder. And in a city like this one, that has been my saving grace.

LU: What do people you meet ask you about Jamaica?

RP: They mainly ask me what it’s like being from there, if I miss it and why would I ever move to New York. I usually answer that yes I always miss home, that it’s such a special place and you really have to go there to experience what it’s like but that my favourite thing about it is our people, and that there are pros and cons to both cities and reasons I love both of them.

LU: What’s a source of inspiration for you, that people, even friends, might not know?

RP: This might be my favourite question!

I love older people. Since I was really small I was always the child talking to the parents, and even now I will have long conversations with older people any chance I get. Older people are a big source of inspiration for me. I think listening to people who have been here longer than I have is something that inspires me to leave my contribution in the world, having heard what their contribution was, what their failures were, what they’re proud of and what they’ve learnt at the end of it. I don’t know. I’ve always been inspired by and interested in the lives and careers of older people. They give me a sense of grounding and encouragement. I don’t think many of my friends know that.